Making Maths Count for Rural Children and Families

This report is also available in PDF format. Click below to view and download this report:

How a better understanding of the nature of education challenges in rural communities can help target co-resourcing to address the NEET problem

Revitalising Rural Education and Training is an important key to improving productivity and sustainability in rural areas… it must be present if food security and sustainable livelihoods are to be achieved on a wide scale.

There are few opportunities as fundamental to changing the life course of communities as strengthening their capacity to benefit from the local education system. When considered as a whole, especially in rural settings, building capacity in our school communities is just part of the answer to addressing the NEET problem. As such, we must invest in transformative change that accounts as a whole for a positive life course trajectory for education and employment.


  • Not only do half of school-age South African children live in rural communities, but when compared to urban schools, rural schools struggle significantly to benefit from interventions to improve their performance and long-term outcomes for learners.
  • While school-based interventions are important, there must be a focus on increasing the capacity of families to support their children in the home with maths.
  • To better understand the challenges faced in education, it is helpful to frame the whole life-course trajectory that represents the NEET problem– from early learning through schooling and beyond to employment.


Bohwa Bja Rena (BBR) is a community development trust founded in 2011 as part of an Anglo-American Platinum (AAP) community empowerment initiative. Called Alchemy, this initiative provided a mechanism for a R 3,5 billion equity ownership scheme through Lefa La Rona Trust (LLRT), benefitting specific communities near AAPs operations and within its labour-sending areas. At the heart of Alchemy is a bold vision to facilitate development at a community level to ensure sustainable and thriving benefit communities through and beyond mining.

Within the Alchemy family, BBR has been charged with sustainable, long-term development in communities around APPs Twickenham Project near the town of Burgersfort in the Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality in Limpopo.


Although only one in three South Africans lives in a rural area, nearly half of school-aged children live in these communities. Moreover, there is compelling evidence that rural children are more likely to come from households that are disproportionally impacted by poverty, unemployment, and inequality. Addressing the latter’s root causes often differs greatly in nature when compared to urban and peri-urban settings. Therefore, while a problem may share a label, such as underperforming schools, the fundamental nature and impact of such a problem in a rural community differ.

One can see this in the unique characteristics of the Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality with nearly two-thirds of its area being under the auspices of 24 traditional authorities and most of the community living in its 342 villages.  Like most rural communities this is a community of young people, with one in two people living in the area being younger than 25 years of age and one in four younger than 15.


It is well known that the wider challenges with basic education in South Africa are exacerbated by the deep inequality in rural communities. Unlike their urban peers, many rural teachers often do not have the same capacity to benefit from interventions developed to counteract underperformance and evolve the education system in line with future demands. A similar capacity problem exists in homes, with parents or guardians not providing support to their school-going children.

The impact of these failures in the rural school community is stark as it drives extreme unemployment, outward migration of youth, and the maintenance of the conditions that promote intergenerational poverty.

Despite the complex interplay of multiple difficult-to-solve problems that characterise the situation, BBR is committed within its bold mandate to create a sustained positive change in rural schools that support an overall positive life course trajectory for rural children.


As part of the Alchemy Family, BBR is required to base its strategic focus and operations on a well-grounded situational analysis of the Fetakgomo Tubatse community. In 2020, facilitated by LLRT, Alchemy’s Community Development Trusts (CDTs) and Non-Profit Company (NPC) started to strengthen their approach to better understand the complex and difficult-to-solve problems in the communities they serve. Drawing on Systems and Design Thinking, and an organising framework based on a life course approach, BBR developed an Interactive Community Profile (ICP) for the geographic community it serves. 

Coupled with its Impact by Design strategy, the Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality ICP gave BBR a clearer understanding of the promotive and risk factors related to education within the life course trajectory of children in the area spanning their early learning, schooling and post-school concerns.

This education and employment-related trajectory is at the heart of the NEET (not in employment, education, and training) problem, which is currently considered to be a national priority intervention area.

Investing in doing better over doing good

Education gets the lion’s share of Corporate Social Investment funding in South Africa. How much and where this investment is made is mainly up to the companies involved, and it would be fair to say that they would only invest in initiatives that aim to do good.

Many of these companies will claim some level of impact, which it could be argued is based on short-term individual outputs rather than a longer-term community-level change. Moreover, their funding is subject to a range of conditions in which the beneficiaries have little say. In brief, while much good is done through this funding, it tends in the main to only focus on alleviating the conditions that make people vulnerable as opposed to reducing those conditions to a point that will no longer prevent those affected from freely directing their lives.

This is the wrinkle for BBR given its mission. To build a sustainable and thriving community inherently calls for reducing a community’s vulnerability and not just periodically alleviating its effects based on conditions such as funding limitations and the interests of those with loud voices. Therefore, while doing good is not a bad thing, following an approach that allows BBR to do better in reducing the conditions of vulnerability is critical to fulfilling its vision.

Focusing on transformative change

Transformative change is based on changing what is done rather than how it is done. What this means in the context of facilitating and supporting change at a community level requires a specific set of tools to understand the situation, describe what impact would look like and how that can be created from the perspective of those directly affected.

For BBR, its ICP for the Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality helps it better understand the NEET life course trajectory and how it can advocate for and co-resource interventions that are more likely to create a sustained and positive change to the conditions of vulnerability within the communities it serves.  


COUNT is a non-government organisation established over 30 years ago to address the challenges associated with Maths in early childhood development, foundation, and intermediate schooling. COUNT’s programmes focus on building capacity both within schools and the child’s family to improve the instructional core for maths. Their programmes are aligned with the Department of Basic Education’s maths Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement and are endorsed by the South African Council for Educators– the professional body for teachers.

Bohwa Bja Rena has entered into a co-resourcing partnership with COUNT that will target 16 schools in the nine villages and three Clusters surrounding the Twickenham operations. Starting in 2022, the programme will reach 32 teachers, 5 120 foundation phase learners and 1 600 parents will be included in the initiative in the next three years. To sustain local capacity, the initiative will also train 12 master trainers in the community, who will assist the schools.


While the COUNT partnership deals with those critical transitions into school and out of the foundation phase, the full life course trajectory still requires interventions on the ECD side of early learning and exiting into the post-school situation. Since its establishment, BBR has invested in developing local ECD programmes and is looking at exploring the means and resourcing requirements to increase the scale of benefit for the communities it serves.

Looking downstream, BBR is supporting the Portable skills and New Venture Creation programme at the Ntoampe Technical High School to create capacity within the local community for youth to follow a self-employment track post-school.  There is a broad consensus that building entrepreneurial skills in the last three years of school is a better approach to support the self-employment track post-school. Keeping in mind that the capacity to absorb young people into a post-school education track is very limited. At the same time, the self-employment track has a litany of challenges, which in part can be counteracted by starting early through a programme within schools.

The Portable skills and New Venture Creation programme helps build the knowledge and practical skills of learners in the Ntoampe Technical High School. In particular, this programme looks at venture creation that is not dependent on mining operations to sustain them. Between 2022 and 2024, this initiative aims to assist in the creation of 100 new companies that are youth-, people with disabilities- and women-owned.


With its understanding of the NEET trajectory and local community situation, BBR looks forward to exploring and developing a range of opportunities that will scale interventions from ECD, through school and beyond into employment, together with co-resourcing and strategic partners.

Bohwa Bja Rena Contact: Mr Pat Mhlongo

Case Study Author: Dr Andrew Crichton

Impact Case Studies

Interactive Community Profiles